Saturday, March 31, 2012

Jasmine Sambac & Champa Harvest!

I had the incredible good fortune to visit two floral extraction facilities near Coimbatore yesterday. Was already planning to go see our absolute guy and I always post something about it. You can read Seriously Sexy Flowers if you want to know a little more about what he’s got there. He does Jasmine sambac, Jasmine grandiflorum (his specialty, from his own fields,) Jasmine auriculatum, Champaka (Michaelia champaka,) Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera,) Mimosa (Acacia dealbata,) Frangipani (Plumeria alba,) Rose (Rosa damescena) and Tuberose (Polyanthus tuberosa,) and a few essential oils as well--davana, curry leaf, tulsi, palmarosa.

I have visited the farm for rose and frangipani extraction before, and this was an even happier day, as we had not one, but two extractions: Champaka and Sambac.

Champaka was first--it’s the beginning of the season and only 13 kilos of flowers showed up. To make a kilo of champaka absolute you need to work with 13 tonnes. (That’s 1000 kilos per tonne, so 13,000 kilos of flowers.) Champaka (aka Champa) comes in red and white varieties but the red is actually yellow in color. This is a huge and assertive flower and the absolute is absolutely (!) crazy! The scent can be overwhelming and the floral heart is attended by tendrils of mint and clove, like a hyena with her cats.

Due to our paucity of Champa flowers, they were shown into two vats, introduced to the hexane, and left to make their magic--we ran out to greet the jasmine truck as it rumbled toward us down the lane.

How cute is this? Loaded in the back of this little truck were 25 burlap bags, each bulging with 60-70 kilos of freshly picked, still unopened jasmine sambac blossoms, all hot and smelling of wet green cherry and sublime sambac.

Each bag was heaved over to the scales, weighed and recorded, then shown to a spot on the matted floor, slit open, and dumped on its side with a soft thud, a splash of creamy yellow sambac blossoms escaping. When all the bags were weighed and situated, they were all upturned at once, so all the flowers would be exposed to the air for approximately the same amount of time. 6 huge fans roared above.

Soon we were swimming in a sea of sambac flowers---9 million if you’re counting. the mounds were smoothed, turned, shuffled about, and made comfortable for the next four hours would see them slowly open, after which they would be giving all their scent to the hexane.

This ton and a half of sambac blossoms will make approximately 1 kilo of oil. And this is our kilo, made for us at Enfleurage.

Jasmine sambac is one of the two main jasmines growing in Tamilnadu, the other being Grandiflorum. They are as different as siblings can be; the Grandiflorum is sweet, demure, calming, picked in the early morning and so serene that even the jasmine markets reflect it. The Sambac, also known as Arabian Jasmine, is another story. It’s picked in the evening, extracted at night--sambac has a wild, almost aggressive scent, and her markets reflect that; it’s complete chaos at the sambac market! People are runing around with sacks of flowers, yelling and bumping into each other! Sambac’s smell is juicy and fruity and highly alluring. She has notes of cherry, cassis, and wet green jungle.

I love both Jasmines, but there’s time when one or the other predominate, when one of the other is my favorite.

Jasmine grandiflorum grows at its best in the farmland around Coimbatore. Jasmine sambac, while able to survive in a pot in a New York apartment, is happiest about 100 kilometres from when Jasmine grandiflorum lives. She grows in the southern part of the jasmine belt, in the farmland around Madurai. The freshly picked flowers are brought by truck up to the factory.

What about Jasmine sambac? This is an oil that is supposed to bring out the feminine--in terms of sensuality, relaxation, comfort within one’s self, confidence and the like. Sambac is a big time aphrodesiac. It’s also a great oil to use in the delivery room (as in babies,) and some people swear it helps them sleep. But it seems that jasmine’s fans are not limited by gender, or anything else. Jasmine is simply a delightful and sweet, wonderful flower, who unfolds her delectable perfume and captivates men and women alike.

I spent my evening rolling in the jasmine blossoms, laying on the floor in the warm evening air as the flowers softly opened.

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